Savvy investors constantly look ahead for trends, and one of today's fast-growing industries covers 70 percent of the planet: water. Almost one-fifth of the world's population currently lives in a water-scarce region, according to the United Nations, and the World Economic Forum estimates our blue planet will face a 40 percent global shortfall in water supply by 2030. One solution to this problem is desalination, the process of removing minerals from saltwater to make it suitable for drinking and irrigation.

As many as 20,000 desalination plants operate across the world today, and the importance of this technology is on the rise. Analytics firm Global Water Intelligence projects the total value of the U.S. produced water market will increase from $5 billion in 2010 to $9.9 billion in 2025, with growth of desalination technologies in particular estimated at an astounding 20.4 percent per year. While a lot of this market's major players are international — such as Israeli-owned IDE and French company Veolia — several U.S. companies currently support desalination projects around the world. Here are five publicly-traded American companies making green from blue:

1. General Electric (NYSE: GE) makes more than your dishwasher: it also offers a range of products and services for desalination plants. As the world's second-largest supplier of water treatment equipment, GE helped establish Africa's largest desalination plant in 2008.

2. TetraTek (NASDAQ: TTEK) is involved in projects such as a desalination plant serving San Antonio, opening in 2016, and California's Carlsbad Seawater Desalination Project, projected to be the largest desalination plant in North America when its completed later this year. The magazine Engineering News-Record recently released its 2015 “Top 500 Design Firms” and ranked TetraTech #1 in Water for the 12th year in a row, as well as #7 for design.

3. American Water Works Company Inc (NYSE: AWK) is not just the largest publicly traded water utility in the United States; it also operates the country's largest seawater desalination plant, in Tampa, Florida, and a pilot plant under development in Monterey, California.

4. Energy Recovery, Inc. (NASDAQ: ERII) provides products for desalination plants around the world, including North America, China, Africa, and the Middle East. The company's flagship product, the PX Pressure Exchanger, recycles energy that would otherwise be lost in the desalination process, allowing plants to save considerable amounts of power over other methods.

5. Flowserve Corporation (NYSE: FLS) expanded its desalination capabilities in 2009, when it acquired a Swiss company that manufactures energy recovery devices for the desalination industry. Flowserve's vertical seawater intake pumps have been installed in the Carlsbad Seawater Desalination Project plant.

All of these companies support other industries beyond desalination, offering stockholders a degree of diversity. However, several privately held American start-ups focus exclusively on innovative water production technologies. These businesses will likely grow alongside global demand for fresh water, making the desalination market a promising sector for investors with eyes on the horizon.

 

J.K. Ullrich began writing about environmental issues at age six, when she won the local library's “Captain Planet” essay contest. In the ensuing 20+ years she earned a degree in English and spent more than five years writing analytical products for government clients. Science and smart sustainability remain among her favorite topics. Keep up with J.K. on her website, www.jkullrich.com.

 

Image by David Martínez Vicente